Sunday, September 5, 2021

A children's book can transform a class!


A story is entertaining. But it can also hold glimpses of history, geography, culture, art… It can spark discussions from simple, everyday things to more difficult, larger issues. So, what better way to mark Teachers’ Day than by exploring imaginative ways in which a children’s book can transform a class.

Every book has its ‘teachable’ moments. And often they are most unexpected, as Adithi Rao discovers when she used her book Noon Chai and a Story for a creative writing workshop for nine-year-olds with minds of their own and some very eye-opening questions! 

Together Alone


Adithi Rao


To me as, perhaps, to other writers, writing is an ‘alone’ process. Yet, it is never lonely, for it thrums with lives and spaces so vital and immediate that I am left in no doubt of their actual existence (if only in some alternate reality!).

NoonChai and a Story is a product of my travels through tiny villages in the high reaches of the Himalayas many summers ago, coupled with stories I read about or heard from the people there of a life divided by “a line that nobody could see but everybody spoke of”. The protagonist of the book is Amiya, a young girl of the Dardic tribe, living in the valley of Gurez in Kashmir. This child, like the rest of her classmates, seeks to turn the library-of-one-book in her school, into a library-of-many.

But, how? For, Gurez is a lonely little place with few books, and lots and lots of snow! It is Amiya’s Deidi, her laughing, wise, lovable grandmother, who saves the day. She recounts a story of a husband long separated by a line that was carelessly scratched upon a map one August day in 1947, while he was over at Gilgit trading his harvest of potatoes for the apples that grew there. He never could return, for between him and his home now stood that shadow line guarded by men with guns.

Amiya writes down Deidi’s story, her sister illustrates it, and the pages are stitched together to form the second book to adorn the shelf of the school library! Inspired by Amiya, her classmates too gather stories from their elders over delicious cups of salty pink noon chai. And thus, one homemade book after the other makes its way onto that library shelf over a long and difficult winter…

Noon Chai and a Story seemed like a pleasant, simple enough book to me, one I was keen for children to read. And so, I accepted with alacrity when I was asked to use this book as a part of a creative writing summer workshop for a group of nine-year-olds. Together, the children and I learnt many things. They, that stories may be told in countless different ways. And me, that no matter how it is told, a tale like Noon Chai… can never be simple.

After I read the book out loud to the children, keeping my tones expressive and animated to grab their interest, I looked up expectantly for their response.They gazed back at me, utterly bewildered. One young gentleman opened and closed his mouth a few times before finally exclaiming: “I don’t see what all the fuss is about! Why couldn’t that silly husband just take a flight and come back home to Deidi? People do travel between India and Pakistan, you know?”

I was at a complete loss for words.

“Sounds like that fellow just did not want to return!” he added, in his practical, no-nonsense way.

Another child observed that Amiya and her friends could have just bought the books. “Why go through so much trouble making them?” she shrugged. There were other questions, too, of course. Deidi’s husband, the one who went away, was her cousin. “Who marries their cousin? Chee!” cried some of the other children.

I realised, at that moment, that it was time to step out of my head and join my readers out there in the real world. To view the story from their eyes rather than my own complacent ones.

Like I said, writing is an alone process…

I took it one question at a time. Well, people do marry their cousins and even their maternal uncles in many cultures across India. It is not a practice confined to any one religion, but a common way of life among many.

Next, digging up maps of the Silk Road (from the 2nd century BCE to the 18th century CE, Gurez Valley had been the bustling portal into Central Asia on that famous trading route), and the Kashmir Valley of modern India, I showed my students how the line of control cut right through the head of the country, so close to Guerez. I did my best to illustrate the difference between an LOC and an international border, and the implications of each. Together, we explored what it must be like to live so close to that invisible line, marked by guns and barbed wire fences. We tried to imagine the life of a child of Dardic origin, whose world is buried under twenty feet of snow for close to half of every year; children whose education is routinely interrupted by winters, curfews and threats of militancy. Theirs is a world with no internet or phones (smart or otherwise), no malls to shop in or bookstores to browse through at leisure.

Painting such a picture for my students needed me to fully imagine it myself. Doing so was one of the most poignant experiences of my life. After all, the lives of others, when seen through our own realities, will eternally remain beyond the reach of our puny imaginations.

In the workshops and storytelling sessions that followed this one, I arrived forearmed with maps, charts and photographs that would help set the tone of the very layered and complex histories of the people of Kashmir, before venturing to read Noon Chai and a Story. It had dawned on me by then that children live in their own unique worlds, shaped by their socio-economic backgrounds and the cultural ethos of the spaces in which they live and grow. So, I must first gently and completely ease them into the world of Amiya before her story can become relevant and relatable to them. 

The easy-on-the-eyes, affectionate illustrations by Ghazal Qadri have been an effective counterpoint to the grim undertones of conflict, separation and loss that run right through the book. I’ve enjoyed using them to show bits of artistic Kashmir life to children during my sessions.

That first workshop was something of an awakening. A wake-up call to the aloneness of people, even while we believe that we are part of a common world. My students had been alone in their perceptions of a life made up of traffic jams, international schools and books that can be ordered online. I too had been alone in my assumption that Noon Chai and a Story would immediately transport my readers to the world of the story. The children of the Gurez Valley, living their lives away from the eyes of the world, are alone too. (They probably never imagined that somewhere, a group of people had come together in cyberspace to read and discuss a story about them!)

And in the middle, holding these three Alones and bringing them all together across time, space and cultures, is a book, quietly telling its tale. Perhaps this, then, is the power of the written word…

Quite at the other end of the spectrum, I sent a copy of the book for the children of Muskaan. An NGO based out of Bhopal, Muskaan works with children of vulnerable slum communities that do not have access to mainstream education. Accompanying the book was, of course, out of the question. Amiya would have to go forth and tell her story the best she could. To my absolute delight, I was later informed that the children loved the book. ‘Amiya is just like us!’ they said. ‘We make our own books too!’

Adithi Rao has written seven books for children (one of which - Candid Tales:
India on a Motorcycle - made it to the Parag Honour List 2021) and short stories for numerous anthologies.
She was assistant director for the Hindi film Satya, and the rights to her film script, Baraf,
have been sold to Aamir Khan Productions Ltd.
She is currently scripting a play for Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust.
You can find her at

Thursday, August 26, 2021

International Dog Day 2021

 Bow WOW!

This International Dog Day take a ‘paws’ and turn into a dog with two tails! For it’s time to celebrate the furry friends who walk, loll, eat, contemplate, wander and tear around the pages of Tulika’s pawsitively delightful canine capers!

So, bury your snouts in A Walk with Thambi, Soda and Bonda, Purple Jojo, Little Anbu, The Grand Story of Ikli Chokli and Can’t Stop Cody! Pawsome reads whether you’re a dog lover, or a friend of felines (Grrrrr!)! And while you’re at it, think about the hungry Anbus and the Codys who need a home, and be kind to the Ikli Choklis all around. You’ll be rewarded with grateful tail wags, even a pawshake, and who knows… one of them might just make their way home… to your home to become your petfriendforever! Just like Cody. Read an excerpt from the fabulous book right here!

“In the fifteen minutes that it took to drive home carefully, his new friend had explored every nook and cranny in the car, coated all the seats with dog hair, set off the passenger-side seat belt alarm multiple times and licked Vismay’s face thirty times…

As soon as they entered the house the puppy went streaking down the corridor, slipping and sliding and skidding as he ran from one room to another. He’d been in a cramped three square-foot cell, twenty-three hours a day for two whole weeks and was almost insane with pent-up energy and excitement with his new-found freedom…

“He looks cute and cuddly but is clearly a crazy puppy,” he thought. “Cute and cuddly and crazy.” Somehow the name Cody popped into his head. And Vismay knew that Cody had to be the name for this wild bundle of joy…

He still left Cody in his crate when he left the house. But one day as he was lacing up his shoes, Vismay looked up to see Cody standing in front of him, watching him intently. Cody knew that when Vismay put on his shoes, it meant he was going somewhere. Either with Cody, or not… If Vismay asked him, “Where’s the leash?” Cody would run helter-skelter around the room in excitement. But today Vismay uttered the dreaded words, “Cody”, he said firmly, “in bed.”… He was to be left home alone in his crate. Usually he would walk into his crate and plop himself down with a disgruntled sigh. But today, he stood looking straight into Vismay’s eyes for a few seconds and then walked not towards the crate but to his dg bed instead…

Vismay felt Cody was trying to communicate a very specific message to him. “Can I stay here instead?” he seemed to be asking. “I promise to be good.” Vismay hesitated… It did really feel as if he was being spoken to. “Okay, baby boy. Let’s give this a try… Be good! I’ll be back soon.”…

 Vismay was pretty sure he would feel foolish when he came home to find a book chewed up, or a portion of a wall gnawed into. But amazingly, he came home to find Cody curled up on the bed (not his dog bed) but the room otherwise looked totally fine… Soon Cody could be left alone with the run of the whole house. “You can be a proper guard dog now, Cody,” said Vismay to him one day… Cody just wagged his tail. Falser words had never been spoken.

Just a few days later, in Fort Funston, Cody was having his usual fun time chasing rainbows and squirrels. He had left the rest of the pack pretty far behind. Kathy knew pointers liked being able to run off into the distance but cam back quickly when called. She didn’t bother if he disappeared for a few minutes. But n that day, she saw hi dash into the bushes after a squirrel some three hundred metres away. When he didn’t appear after fifteen minutes, she became a little concerned. “Coooooody!” she called out. No Cody appeared. “Cooooooooody!” Still no Cody came running towards her, ears flapping back in the wind.

Bow WOW indeed, right?

Get a copies of all the doggy books on our website,, at a special price! 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

My Name Is Gulab: Interview with author-illustrator Sagar Kolwankar


How did the idea for a story like My Name is Gulab come to you?


I'm a visual person. A picture says a thousand words – or rather, a story! That's how Gulab also came to life, from a heart-touching picture I came across where a man was peeping out of a manhole, from the deep murk of a gutter. His personal story was given below this picture. About his family, especially his daughter. About how she stood up for him when some people tried to dehumanise him. She was 24 years old but it sparked a question in my head: How would a child react to growing up with such deep-rooted social issues? And Gulab came to life.



Why do you think it is important for children to read a picture book with the theme of manual scavenging?


We have all grown up taking for granted that some people do manual scavenging. We have normalised it with responses like "It's a job, after all!" or "They can choose to do other jobs, so why don't they?" We don’t think or talk about why only some people are made to do this work – those from the lowest castes, who hardly have an option. It is thrust on them as their ‘fate’. Many of us have grown up unaware of this or choosing to ignore it. And by not talking about such social issues, we normalise the practice even more. I hope to break that silence with this book addressed to young children who, in my opinion, are our hope for change.


Didn’t you think it would be too much for children to understand?


Young children are far more responsive than stone-minded adults. I have seen children questioning their parents about serious issues in society. The answers parents give will shape their minds. If parents lie, the child will believe in that lie. If they hide, the child grows up ignorant of the issue. On the other hand, if we make them aware, the knowledge will lead to empathy. And empathy is the first step to creating a sense of fairness and justice in young minds.

Were you aware of issues of caste, untouchability and manual scavenging as a child?


I grew up in a slum with the manual scavenging community living across the road. Kids used to say you smell to certain children. Apparently they were all from a lower caste. I too had upper caste friends not eating from my tiffin box as I belong to an other backward caste myself.

My old one-roomed house was in a chawl, which was near a big gutter. The whole slum was around that big gutter. We children played there. While playing cricket, the ball would always land in the gutter and we would jump in to get it without thinking twice. In the rainy season the gutter water would come inside our homes. Municipality would not attend to it. So my mother or neighbours would clean it.

I remember some upper caste people who used to live in an adjacent chawl. And used to call out to a man called 'Bandhu' for cleaning the overflowing gutters in their chawl. I never really understood why at that time. But we were told those are rich people and they don't do such jobs. 'Bandhu’ would do it for a minimum wage, as that is what he was supposed to do!

It was only when I grew up that I understood more about how society views these things, that it was not even our “job” because we were not from a caste that cleans gutters. Now imagine the plight of people who are stamped with such jobs!


These are issues around which there has always been silence and denial. So to put it out in a children's book is a very bold step, breaking several taboos. Does this worry you?


A lot! I'm not worried about telling the truth to children. Because I feel that after reading such stories with their parents, kids will definitely have some questions. Which is what I want – encourage dialogue and create awareness. Adults are afraid of these issues because it challenges their deep-rooted beliefs. Children on the other hand are not afraid. My worry is that my motives will be misunderstood, that I will be seen as writing about something I haven’t experienced. But such subjects should be talked about and that is what I'm trying to do here. 

How did you arrive at the illustrative style for a book with a serious theme like this?

A big thanks goes to Team Tulika. The book has gone through multiple edits and I explored many illustration styles. Finally the current style made sense. It focuses more on the characters and gives them space – that's what we wanted to achieve.

You said you’d like to donate all royalty from this book to an NGO – why?


I write about these topics because I feel it can make a small difference. Even 0.1% is a lot! But I don’t want it to be seen as if I am making money by telling the community’s story. I don’t want that on my conscience. I can do more by giving away the proceeds from these books to educate children from that community and enable them. 


"What would children do?" is how Sagar Kolwankar approaches issues that affect all of us, and expresses them best through stories and pictures. He has a deep interest in storytelling through comics, picture books and novels, and believes that books are the gateway to an imaginary world that everyone should visit often. Sagar's other books with Tulika are the award-winning I Will Save My Land and Red

Get a copy of My Name Is Gulab today!